UK 'used deniable fiddle' to hide up to £60m in Saudi arms payments

UK 'used deniable fiddle' to hide up to £60m in Saudi arms payments
The UK government has been accused of using private contractors to channel money to senior Saudi officials in order to secure arms deals.
2 min read
10 May, 2022
Abdullah bin Abdulaziz Al Saud was king from 2005 until his death in 2015 [source: Getty]

The UK government has been accused of complicity in a clandestine web of bribery involving a former Saudi king, his son and senior Saudi officials to secure lucrative arms deals. 

The British government orchestrated a “deniable fiddle” so they could send payments to Prince Abdullah, who would rule the kingdom for a decade, of up to £60 million, said a QC representing two men charged with corruption in relation to Saudi contracts, reported the Guardian. 

Barrister Ian Winter said the covert operation used private contractors; namely Airbus subsidiary GPT, “which would permit [the British government] to deny their involvement” while at the same time acquiring contracts from the Saudi military, reported the British newspaper. 

Winter is defending Jeffrey Cook, a former Ministry of Defence (MoD) civil servant turned managing director of GPT, and John Mason, the financial officer and part-owner of Simec and Duranton. Simec was a subcontractor of GPT. 

Both men were charged with corruption between 2007 and 2012 by the Serious Fraud Office (SFO) in relation to contracts awarded to GPT in respect to work carried out for the Saudi Arabian National Guard. 

Cook is also charged with misconduct in public office between September 2004 and November 2008 in relation to a commission paid for MoD contracts. 

Winter’s defence rest on the fact that the payments were authorised by the British government “in the public interest,” and therefore do not amount to corruption, according to The Guardian. 

The contracts were awarded to GPT as part of a large arms deal managed as formal agreements between the UK and Saudi governments starting in the 1970s. The QC said “very senior” officials in the British government approved every penny of the payments. 

SFO opened its investigation into GPT in 2012. the firm pleaded guilty to corruption in April 2021, and was sentenced to pay a confiscation order of over £20 million. 

The trail of Cook and Mason is ongoing.